Rome in a Day

Cruising Europe was a dream come true, and it all started with 5 days in Italy. Me and my family intended to spend 2 days in Rome, taking in the city with all its decaying grandeur, and then spend the remaining time visiting the gilded halls of Florence’s top family–the Medici–and the time capsule that is Pompeii, a city sealed in all its volcanic ash and forgotten by time and men for thousands of years. From there, we would make our way to Venice to catch our cruise ship to the Adriatic Sea and Jerusalem. The trains tickets were purchased, the journey carefully mapped. It was going to be riveting. At least that was the plan until a tornado ripped through Atlanta.

The tornado delayed every flight in and out of Atlanta International Airport, including ours (we had a stopover in ATL). The logistics were a mess, and we ended up airport hopping for 3 days in our attempt to get there. We finally made it to Rome in the evening of what would have been Day 3. Our chances to see Pompeii and Florence were shot. So we decided to make the best of what we had. Believe it, Belles. We saw Rome in a day.

Fresh off the plane and exhausted, I somehow convinced my parents to grab some halal gyro pizza from a street vendor (there’s TONS of Bangladeshis in Italy! Who knew?) and come out for a quick walk. Little did they know I had a surprise in store. I led them through the cobblestone streets full of music and laughter, turned a corner, and bellisimo! We were at the Fountain of Trevi. It was magical; the perfect way to lift our spirits. We made our wishes and tossed our coins. Did I take the moment to sing the first few lines of “Call Me, Maybe”? You bet. On blast. 😀

In the morning, our first stop was the Vatican. This city/museum is so vast, you need to get a tour guide. Ours was wonderfully interactive and could answer all the questions I had planned to save for our trip to Florence about the Medici and their influence on art, politics, and religion. Two birds, meet my one stone. 😀 I had never been in a museum where the artwork was close enough to touch–not encased in glass. We walked through centuries of sculptures and art as we moved towards the Sistine Chapel with its most famous of ceilings–The Creation of Adam. No photos were allowed inside the chapel but Michelangelo’s fresco was awesome. The details, the history, the underpants (yes, I said underpants). All the controversy between artistic vision and religious propriety was right before our eyes. And it was MASSIVE.

After a quick lunch and a refreshing gelato to give us a boost, we left the Vatican and began our race to see Rome. It felt like the tornado had followed us all the way from Atlanta–we found ourselves running from place to place, trying to see as many of our must-see sights as we could. Here were our top picks:

The Mouth of Truth (Bocca della Verita): First made famous in Roman Holiday, we had to try our hand (get it? pun very much intended) at surviving its jaws. On our way out, we happened upon a lovely operatic performance taking place in the adjacent church, Santa Maria in Cosmedin.

Daring to tell a lie at the Mouth of Truth

The Colosseum (Le Colosseo): To the movie-classic question, “Are you not entertained?!”, we gleefully reply, “Yes!” We were literally running to the gates of the Colosseum before the guards could call ‘last entry’ and couldn’t have been happier with what we saw. I still get goosebumps when I see the cells where the beasts prowled, impatient for that cocktail of clean air and blood. We soaked it all in–the scale, the sensation. Thanks to my handy Fodor travel guidebook, we all took turns giving the structure our own melancholy salutation like the hundreds of gladiators who had come before us. Ave, Imperator, morituri te salutant. Hail, Emperor, those who are about to die salute you.

The Spanish Steps and Piazza Di Spagna: Believe it or not, this was one of my favorite places. We got here right around sunset, after a long day of walking. We’d seen the Pantheon, the Palatine Hill, Circus Maximus, the Roman Forum, and the wonderfully busy Piazza Venezia. We’d seen street performers seemingly floating in thin air and busts of old emperors by the Arch of Titus, with its towering trees of peculiar, almost Truffula-like form. We were ready for a rest. As we walked down the Piazza di Spagna, lined with designer stores, we met the most charming Italian violinist who, noticing our interest, serenaded us with his beautiful rendition of Por una Cabeza, which happens to come from my mother’s favorite movie, Scent of a Woman.

We grabbed some gelato from nearby and plopped down on the steps in true Audrey Hepburn-style. We were soon being shooed off (apparently food is no longer allowed on the steps–too many tourists making a mess!) but we had a grand old time with it. About ready to call it a night, we started making our way off the plaza when a barrage of heart-shaped balloons came bobbing down our way. A surprise proposal! We were thrilled. We joined in the festivities, observing and even singing along to the couples’ friends’ rendition of the Bruno Mars song, Marry You. Yes, my Belles, Rome was magical.

Proposal on the Spanish Steps <3

So, Gelato? Check. Pizza? Check. The perfect Roman Holiday reenactment on the Spanish Steps? Check!

Sure, we didn’t see the Borghese Gardens, the Duomo in Florence, the Barberini Palace with its exquisite interiors seen in Roman Holiday, or the many museums in the area but that’s what a second round is for. After all, this is what dreams are made of, right? 😉

Pope Francis Graffiti


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Ready, Set, *Bang*: NaNoWriMo 2017

While some people are waking up to Nov 1st saying “Rabbit Rabbit”, writers all over the world have been up since midnight, furiously typing away in an attempt to write 50,000 words over the next 30 days. Why? Because it’s NaNoWriMo.

What’s NaNoWriMo?
NanoWrimMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. It happens every November and it is self-inflicted insanity. In every corner of the world, writers are meeting up online and in person, getting together simply to motivate each other to write their dream novels in a sprint-style race against the clock. The goal isn’t to have a publishable work, perfect and pristine at the end of the month. It’s to make PROGRESS. A typical novel has about 80,000 words. Getting 50,000 of those down on paper in a rough draft format is a huge accomplishment, and if you’ve ever been stuck with writer’s block, you’ll understand what I mean.

write everything

I first found out about NaNoWriMo almost 7 years back but never felt like I could do it. Not this year! This year, I’ll be joining the fray for the very first time and I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited to see what I can do when I’m really pushed to my limits. I’ll be busy typing away for the rest of the month so I won’t be posting live updates each week but if you want to know how I’m doing throughout the month, it’ll probably look a little like this:

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Check back here on December 1st for my reaction to what is, by unanimous vote, the craziest adventure any writer takes each year. Fingers crossed I’m not brain dead by then!

You should be writingWell said, Doctor. Well said. *Gulp*

Halloween Movie Review: IT

Every since American Horror Story started up, for me, Halloween has stopped being about trick or treating and taken on a new shape–one of true horror. This year’s remake release of Stephen King’s IT is exactly the kind of movie to put you in the Halloween mood.

Confront your worst nightmares this month with IT, as a young group of 7 often-bullied high school teens make it their mission to find out why so many kids are disappearing in their small town of Derry. There’s blood, there’s jump scares, and best of all, there is a ton of screaming, Stranger Things edition–Finn Wolfhard from the cast of Stranger Things does another fantastic job in an 80’s throwback movie, screaming for his life. (Speaking of, who’s ready for today’s premiere of Stranger Things 2?! This girl, right here.)

A terrifying clown haunts our screen and the back of our eyelids as it takes on the shape of each person’s worst fears, be they rational or irrational. And because IT transformed from one person’s to another’s so frighteningly accurately, I couldn’t help wondering what mine would be.

I especially enjoyed the dialogue in this movie. It was witty, sarcastic, and on point. Each character was distinct but when the group of outcasts banded together, they didn’t seem awkward with each other. In fact, there were many LOL moments in the movie alongside the jump scares and the more terrifying shots of a dark thing approaching at great speed. A perfect blend, I’d say.

All in all, if you’re looking for a great movie to get you down to Halloweentown, I’d recommend this movie–alongside the more classic throwback Disney hit Halloweentown.

 

5 movies on Netflix perfect for a Valentine’s date with your literary lover

Dinner and a movie still make for the best date night. Add that personal, playful touch by arranging it at home. Just in time for your essential Valentine’s Day Netflix-and-chill session, here are 5 movies you can watch while you cuddle up with your lover. Order in a heart-shaped pizza from Papa John’s and the night is set!

  1. Clueless — based on Jane Austen’s Emma
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  2. 10 Things I Hate About You –inspired by Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew
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  3. Twilight — pulls from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights
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  4. The Princess Bride –of the same name by William Goldman.
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  5. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries– Ok, so this one’s not on Netflix, it’s on Youtube, so cast it to your TV some other way. It’s won a TON of Emmy’s for its brilliant take on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. TLBD takes on Austen’s novel in 4-minute Youtube videos, making for a refreshingly relevant take on an all time classic.
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Not feeling like Netflix? Here are a few others you won’t want to miss:

  1. She’s The Man –a hilarious rom com inspired by Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night
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  2. Warm Bodies –love and zombies? Get some Romeo & Juliet action with this film
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  3. My Fair Lady –Shaw’s Pygmalion has inspired a lot of remakes over the years with Pretty Woman, She’s All That, and Trading Places, but the best and most classically acclaimed rendition is by far Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady
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  4. Easy A–One of Emma Stone’s best jobs, Easy A takes The Scarlet Letter and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to new heights with its glorious high-school version
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Top 5 Books of 2016

Readers, open your books to page 394… May Alan Rickman rest in peace.

I read a grand total of 24 books this year and a lot of them were really good! More than can fit on this list, thankfully. Enjoy!

5. Hollow City by Random Riggs 

In the second installment of Missouri Peregrine’s Peculiar Children series, gives sophisticated topics a fresh point of view. Full grown adults, forever trapped in the bodies of their youth- how is maturity effected when you are living the same day over and over? And how quickly does that rose-tinted view of life last once thrust into the throes of war?

4. Muslim Girl by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

If you haven’t already, read my review of here.

3. Muhammad: His life based on the earliest sources by Martin Ling

Lings drafts out a complete and thorough narrative of the story of the life of Prophet Muhammad through a variety of sources. Commonly, his story is told in fragments, so hearing the story of his life from birth to death made the man feel complete. I really enjoyed this listen from Audible. 

2. Heartless by Marissa Meyer 

See my raves of this wonderful book here.

1. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (R.I.P)

This haunting story of a man’s awakening was incredible. And I could listen to Tim Robbins’ reading it over and over again. Indeed, it is one of those books that leaves you with an eerie sense of incompleteness. You feel like you missed something very important the first time around because you were so engrossed in the plot. You want to go back and see if you can pinpoint what you’re looking for. A true classic, up there with Brave New World and 1984, Fahrenheit 451 is my top read of 2016.

Now it’s your turn, dear readers. What were your favorite books of the year? Tell me in the comments below!

How could you be so Heartless?

If you’ve not read Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, I greatly urge you to do so. I’ve always been a sucker for a good fairytale retelling. I’m still obsessed with Ella Enchanted. Meyer’s does wonders blending sci-fi and fantasy together in hers. 

Beyond her Lunar Chronicles series, Meyer’s new book, Heartless, does not disappoint. How did the Queen of Hearts find her catchphrase “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!”? We are given the thrilling experience of finding out.

I love Catherine, with her kind yet passionate nature and strong sense of purpose. I found Jest to be a bit odd but I grew to like him, as I grew to like his whole tea party of friends. In a topsy-turvy world on the other side of Wonderland, Meyer ingeniously made me love a story I’ve never been fond of before. How? She has a very clear understanding of her characters and their actions and growth throughout the story feels devastatingly true. 

I swear to you, readers, I read the whole thing in 12 hours straight. No bathroom breaks or meals. 5pm to 5am. It was a whirlwind. And when destiny came knocking, I found myself sobbing. That’s how invested I was. At 4am, I was crying in big heaving sobs. By the end, I was an emotional wreck; my chest aching, hollow. 

Looking again at the title of the book, I have to ask, who does Meyer leave heartless? Because I could have sworn it was me.


A Muslim Girl’s reflections

I’m reading Amani Al-Khatahtbeh’s Muslim Girl this weekend. I’m only halfway through but I’ve cried 3 times already! I didn’t realize how much my own experiences relate to hers, so much so that the lines between myself and the narrator are significantly blurred. We all know that our experiences are not unique and as much as we may think we’re alone in our struggles, we know there are plenty of people like us experiencing the same things, but reading them on paper! I never realized how much of an impact it would make.

Needless to say,  it’s been  very introspective read and is got me thinking about what it means to be an American Muslim Girl.

I was just recently naturalized. I’ve lived in the States for nearly my entire life and I’d pass the test that allowed me the privileges of citizenship,  but when I was speaking that oath I couldn’t help wondering, will the rest of society accept us as American? Does the rest of the country believe that a 10 question test is enough for one to attain the title of American that  leads so many to puff out their chests with pride?

Does it matter at all that I’m a Muslim American? There is so much history of American society turning on minorities among them, shouting the standard phrase, “Go back home!” It’s not just Muslims who have felt this pressure (and by Muslims I really mean people who look Arab, North African, or South Asian). The Chinese felt it sharply until 1965 when the Magnuson Act was repealed (because of the Masgnuson Act Asians were not only barred from immigration, but Asian Americans in all 50 states, including US citizens, were legally disfranchised and subjected to high rents and punitive taxes), Japanese Americans felt it soon after Pearl Harbor when over 62% of them were shipped to internment camps, and African Americans felt it as well. Their history is much better known than the others’ so I won’t go into the excessively cruel discrimination against them.

If after reading this you think “Well, looks like it’s the Middle East’s turn” then you’re missing the point. Putting aside the fact that you’ve just approved of discrimination and racism against the millions of “others” in this world, which you very well could be considered in any other part of the world, the fact is that this form of discrimination happened to legal American citizens. So what is the true value of citizenship in America? Freedom of speech? Freedom of/from religion? Both have been denied to one group or another in the past. Right to vote and the right to a timely trial and fair jury? The former was denied to Black Americans and the latter was denied to Anwar Al-Awlaki, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, and Samir Khan, all citizens by birth, not even by naturalization.

What do you think? What makes an American? And what are the benefits of citizenship? Are we truly safe to live our lives in America as Americans?

Caution: Banned Books found here

Hey Readers,

I’ve been feeling rebellious recently. Maybe it’s because the days are growing shorter (what a phrase! Growing shorter?) and the nights are increasingly darker as winter arrives. Or maybe it’s my dark lipstick and makeup’s bad influence? Whatever it may be, I’m in the mood for a little rebellion. If you’re right there with me, take a stab at confronting censorship head on. Grab one of these banned books at your local library or bookstore.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Native Son by Richard Wright –I wouldn’t read this book after dark. It gets pretty gruesome!
A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak –Baffled? So was I. The dark themes of the story made quite a few people nervous about making this available to children.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

You can do a little jig walking down the sidewalk ‘cuz you’ve stuck it to the Man–and also because you know you’re in for a treat tonight. Nothing is better than cozying up in your thickest knit, a cup of coffee by your side, and a forbidden fruit–i mean, book–in hand.

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Freedom of speech is a big deal in America, but too often we glaze over it when it happens in our very own communities. The media’s pushing soundbites like little pills in the playground. You laugh, but take a minute to think about it. Are these really just succinct phrases that embody a complete whole? Can we say for sure that our outlook on issues and people in the news isn’t being skewed by these censored bits and pieces? Because that’s really what a soundbite is–censorship at its trendiest.

Do you agree? Where else do you see censorship at work? Next time you see it, call it out, and think about why it’s happening. Then, go out and get educated. That’s the only way to fight this particular illness, the symptoms of which are ignorance and gullibility.

Penny for your thoughts

Dear Reader,

I’ve a question for you. Which is the greater of the two, a story that has yet to be lived or one that simply remains to be written? Does it matter? Be it the author’s intention to recite a tale of longing and love lost, or a young girl’s leap into the thrilling unknown, you, oh reader, are experiencing it for the first time. You do not care for the ending until you arrive at it and yet you feel dread betwixt the drama, joy and a craving for the next when it arrives at the last page. If you agree, then let us begin at the end.

They lived happily ever after…

Sincerely,
Yours Truly

Oh-Hiya, Ohio!

Last week I was visiting my sister in Ohio where she was graduating from her med program. We found out that our flight was delayed by a few hours so we decided to make the most of it and see some of Cleveland.

We stopped by the house where Superman’s was born: 10622 Kimberly Ave. Jerry Siegel invented the Man of Steel in this house back in 1932. I love me some Cavill puppy eyes but the original will always win in a fight.

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We also found some amazing cultural gardens in Rockefeller Park. Since they were culture, and books have been a part of every nation’s culture since waaaaaay back, naturally I found some old friends. Ahhh, gotta love the smell of literature in the morning.

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Good old, depressing Goethe. Famous for “The Sorrows of Young Werther”

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Pondering Dante, of (in)famous acclaim around the world.

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Multi-tasking! Reflecting the sun’s rays and Virgil’s works